26 July 2009

My life under glass, 40 years later

Going to the poster art exhibit at the Denver Art Museum gave me the odd sensation of seeing the stuff I stared at every day in shop windows and tacked onto phone poles hermetically sealed and mounted on stark white expanses of wall. I both wanted to say something about having been there then, and I also wanted not to, as I wandered through the crowds and peered at the barely scrutable poster art.

I enjoyed seeing the kids, including my own, so thrilled with the "animations" -- different images were printed in different colors on the same print so that when three different colors of light were shone on the one poster, it appeared to move, like a holographic image.

I also liked making a poster as a keepsake at the museum exhibit. I had laughed and rolled my eyes at myself when I saw how many posters advertised Big Brother and the Holding Company shows. I knew I would never be able to pinpoint the show I had seen from my perch on the piano on the same stage as Janis Joplin, where in a fringed orange dress she belted out her raspy tunes and totally surprised me by being white, not black. I think we saw that show not at the Avalon Ballroom but at the Straight Theater, because I am pretty sure we came into the theater from Haight. But my memory may be misleading me; I was only four or five and quite overwhelmed by the company we were in -- all those scary looking Hells Angels.

This exhibit seemed to display an amazingly comprehensive collection of the bills advertising the explosion of music that would come to be known as part of "the San Francisco Sound." There must have been twenty or thirty for Big Brother and the Holding Company; there were probably double that for Quicksilver Messenger Service. (Someone with time on his or her hands and a nice database could make a sweet graphic displaying the frequency with which the bands appear on the posters from that era. That would be fun to see.)

We saw more than a few bizarre sounding lineups, but one thing I noticed was how the blues still provided the primary idiom, the musical lingua franca that everyone spoke and some people more than others were able to subvert to their own voices and messages. I was often uncomfortable with the blues -- especially the songs with the "I'm-your-daddy" lyrics. Ick. I loved the lazy sweetness of Taj Mahal's music, but disliked him for his cover of that horrid "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" song. Quicksilver's "Suzy Q" made me equally queasy. Some things you just know are wrong from the get-go, and I was sure about all that.

I had a nice moment of familiarity with myself when I looked at the Zap Comix books the DAM had on display and felt a sense impatience with the abstraction of the particular comic strip shown. I didn't particularly enjoy trying to decipher all that crazily drawn, difficult-to-read text back then; that graphic opacity impaired my enjoyment of the artwork and storytelling, if there was a story at all. I still feel that way. Give me a bold and clear design that supports its message, or at the very least a good story. I am still not likely to spend too much time on something unless I find it extremely beautiful or illuminating.

But goodness, I'm still feeling whomped upside the head by my recent revelation that no, my baby sister was no longer with us when we saw the televised moon landing on July 21, 1969, at the house of some rare friends who had a set (Pam and someone, Jewish friends). That must have been where we were staying when I went to that preschool for a few days. I wonder: Was driving my parents crazy then, asking whether my sister was coming back or would we meet her somewhere later, even though I'm sure I'd been told what had happened. I never saw her after she died, but I did see her unconscious, which felt like it was nearly the same thing. I think I went once to where she is buried.

And there's more to hope for and think good thoughts for than ever these days: my body, my family's and friends' bodies. Yet there's only so much I can think or say or do in a day, and again it's time to rest and recharge.

23 July 2009

It's not what they say; it's what you do.

Coming into my own.

What does that little cliche mean to me?

Being this age I'm starting to see how little it matters what anyone thinks -- it's all what you do. I know it sounds teenagerishly obvious, but so what? There it is.

So how do I make my time here matter most?

I seriously think I just have to make myself sit down and crank out the first completed draft of my novel in two weeks (I am not kidding!), working crazy hours and letting myself just get immersed in it. I am going to need rolls of wide butcher paper for mapping the storyline, just to keep myself straight with all the details, but I think doing that will help it work. (This reminds me of Matthue and Brett's creativity workshop revelations about how I see and hear and mentally map things out, which I have ever since found marvelously helpful.)

I had some notion yesterday that I was going to sit down and write for ten hours, but other things kept beckoning and I kept not sitting down to write that at all until I had no more time left. So I thought, where do I get the idea I am going to sit down and write ten chapters? I'm good for an hour or three at once usually, but that's about it. It's hard work, in the way that visiting a museum is hard work. It's a lot to take in at the museum, and a lot to process as a writer, and sometimes I don't even want to go there. But I am always glad when I do, and I would love to just plunge all the way into that story and finish it.

In a recent writing group discussion about why we write, I said in part to reach out to people,to say it's okay to be you. Another person in the group was surprised. She felt it was always just about getting in touch with the event or person or emotion of the scene, the memory.

I do these projects that have been calling out to me: Making movies. Writing my book. Writing songs. A libretto? I am so ignorant of all this! I have several great projects in the immediate future: I have to recut my gomez movie so it's waaaay shorter (i.e., under ten minutes). I have another good idea for a short film I could do over the next few days if everyone is around. (Note to me: It would be great if the chickens would come back from Ft. Collins. Maybe my neighbor would bring them back for this reason if I asked nicely. And gave her a nice bottle of wine.)

Hmm, a young, searching person in the lead in the musical -- Zac Efron wondering if he's gay. What? Musical?! I still can't believe I'm saying this out loud.

There it is.

18 July 2009

Feeling it and singing it -- at the same time?!

Today's dance class revelation: I truly don't know if I could be a rock star. They sing it every time as if they mean it, because they do, I realized. (There's that sincerity dictum I learned about from Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music -- that people who make great actors and rock stars understand something about being able to tap into sincere wellsprings of feeling to do what they do, and people can usually instantly recognize when they're faking it).

Today I felt all my emotions when we danced to the Michael Franti song about bringing our children home, pleading to stop their sacrifice in the name of war and commerce. I danced my greatest yearnings and deepest entreaties, in the spirit of a Quaker, with me plain, naked of soul, nothing interposed between me and that which I begged for mercy. I even had to go out of the hall and cry for a minute after that song, which is unusual. But after a minute I drank some water and went on with the dance.

That's the part of being a rock star that would be hard: feeling it and keeping it all moving forward when singing a song like "Time To Go Home" ("Don't take our boys away, no, don't take our girls away.... It's time to go home") or the end of Bonnie Raitt's "Louise" ("Well, everybody thought it kind of sad / When they found Louise in her room / They'd always put her down below their kind / Still some cried when she died this afternoon / Louise rode home on the mail train / Somewhere to the south I heard 'em say"). How do you feel it without succumbing to it?

03 July 2009

The most familiar dance

I think I have a crush on my dance class.

I can see how over time my teacher might have to fend off students who develop crushes on her, because she is such a good teacher, in the fullest sense of the words. But I really think for me I am in love with the knowledge I am getting from doing this kind of dancing. Somehow this particular mad amalgam of dance forms, martial arts, Feldenkrais movement principles, Yoga, and self-expression, imbued with music, my favorite art form of all, is so familiar to me.

The dance forms, which as I get deeper familiarized with them, work with the body's natural flow, our natural inclinations toward rhythm and grace. This dance is familiar in the way I recognize a neighborhood in London I've never visited before, or already know how to cook a food in a French way (even though I've hardly cracked that Gastronomique Larousse that sits so pretentiously on a shelf).

This dancing opens me to more, keeps me in the present moment. I see and feel when I slip out of the present, but it gets easier all the time to slip right back into the now.

02 July 2009

Greetings from the non-Midwest

Life keeps unfolding in bizarre and compelling ways, always keeping me guessing. I went and helped my uncle out a bit, but haven't been able to bring myself to go back since.

I'm sitting at my messy kitchen table gearing up for a new phase of the day: the one where I go to the grocery store for a couple of items for dinner and the coming few days, then going to a dance class. Yum! Flageolet beans are soaking and a quick, barely-kneaded bread dough is sitting in a warm oven doing its yeasty thing.

Daily life is about the most basic of things. Yesterday a trip downtown on bikes turned dramatic when I made a mistake that caused an accident. Luckily we weren't in heavy traffic, but there were some scrapes and freakouts, and justified mistrust. But my poor kid might have felt worse when I accused myself of being a terrible mother out loud. "Where's the tissue box, Mom?" she asked, brimming over before she could find it.

Today I had fun making lunch: gluten-free mac and cheese from scratch, with apples, carrots, and brown rice chips. Delish, all of it, and everyone liked and ate most everything, which is always satisfying.

A couple of days ago, we returned home from Iowa, where the heat wasn't bad and the company was good. I still feel I stick out like a sore thumb there, because I seem to have come from folks who were still headed west long after these folks' ancestors settled in the Midwest. (Just a point of clarification for non-Coloradoans: Colorado is not the Midwest in our minds -- at least not until you get far enough out on the plains, in the eastern part of the state that you can't see the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.)

Often communication was easiest through the pets that circled us and begged for scraps from willing feeders. (I joked that dogs think I don't know their names because I'm always telling them, "Dream on.") One of the relatives spent most of her time treating her dogs like toddlers, taking every step with them and attending to their every need as any good mother would. And instead of being horrified, I found it sweet, and only a little sad that she didn't feel as comfortable with the people around her. But they all have a way of not talking about things that is, shall I say, a bit alien to me.

Of course I feel I am alien to them in my analytical qualities. I am always thinking of situations on many levels, trying to see context while trying to hear what people are really saying. In short, a lot of people would say I think too much, have too much time on my hands. Maybe, but I have something I want to make with it. Something I need to say. Because if I try to spill out all these complicated feelings about the food industry right there in their heartland kitchens, it won't be pretty. I can't do that to them. There's an interesting set of choices at work: it's okay to put one's energy into remodeling a bathroom or a porch, and then to talk about one's choices and travails, but they're not going to talk about that person's parents, or this person's tragedies.

All the same, it's good to see everyone up close, to smile and laugh and eat together until you want to burst. It's good to know we're all just who we are, and it's fun for me to be in a group where the grandma sits at the top of this small mountain of people. Events like that involving my own grandparents have been sparse indeed. I can't fill one hand with instances. Amazing. And here's this lovely lady who's had kids and grandkids and still laughs and gets around at 89.

And these aren't folks who are going to let any of theirs fall through the cracks, either. I saw that in how everyone looks after the youngest, who has some special needs, shall we say, but whose community is rising up to meet her.

Aw, jeez, it's raining again!